Azerbaijan Wants Closer NATO Ties Hopes to Join

BAKU (Reuters)–Azerbaijan is seeking further integration into NATO structures–with the eventual goal of becoming a member of the alliance–Deputy Foreign Minister Araz Azimov said on Wednesday.

"A new integrational partnership with NATO will raise Azerbaijan to the level where we will be one step away from full membership," Azimov told reporters before meeting a delegation of high-ranking NATO officials.

The delegation–led by an aide to NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana–arrived on Tuesday for a four-day visit to the former Soviet republic.

Azerbaijan wants to work with NATO on issues including the security of an oil pipeline running from Azerbaijan’s Caspian Sea oil fields to Georgia and illegal arms shipmen’s through the Caucasus region–Azimov said.

"We already have a good program with NATO and we want to broaden the range of areas in which we cooperate," he said of the oil-producing republic’s role in the alliance’s Partnership for Peace program–which it joined in May 1994.

Earlier this year–Azerbaijan’s top foreign policy adviser asked NATO to establish military bases on its territory to counter Russian bases in neighboring Armenia.

The alliance’s consultative group from the Council on Euro-Atlantic Partnership–which includes NATO and members from the PfP program–will meet in Baku on Thursday and Friday.

Azerbaijan’s President Haydar Aliyev had been due to meet the delegation but is recuperating in Turkey after a heart bypass operation in the United States–where he also attended NATO’s recent 50th anniversary celebrations.

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